1. The Top 15 Most Important, Post-WWII Anglophone Books of Philosophy, According To Google: Brian Leiter, of Leiter Reports: A Philosophy Blog fame, compiled a list derived from Google search results of the Top 15 (plus Top 10 runners-up) most important philosophy books of the last 50 years. To paraphrase a comment made by Mr. Leiter on his own post, I’m not sure these books tell us anything about philosophy, but they do say something about the accessibility and potential usefulness of philosophy to the general public. Several works and authors on the list familiar historians and many readers here include: Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions; John Rawls, A Theory of Justice; Richard Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature; Karl Popper, Objective Knowledge; W.V.O. Quine, Word and Object; and maybe Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self. And this Wikipedia post will help you sort through some of the other players.
No Isaiah Berlin? Aside: Jurgen Habermas apparently floats on the edges of the analytic/anglophone tradition.
2. Evaluating Participation Grades: Bonnie M. Miller, in the latest issue of the AHA’s Perspectives on History, asks whether and how we should grade class participation. The article is a useful revisitation of the philosophies, both pro and con, behind accounting for participation. Most of my conversations with colleagues on this topic have been informal. As such, it’s nice to see a write-up. Of course the article also unintentionally underscores just how imperfect evaluation is on the whole. I like Miller’s mid-term self-evaluation of participation idea.
3. A Cornel West Takedown—For His Own Good?: In a recent InsideHigherEd article written for potpourri posts like this one, Scott McLemee takes Cornel West to task for being less than McLemee thinks he can, or should, be. Others have commented on McLemee’s story and West’s book, but I want to take the conversation in another direction. Since I’m neither an enemy nor a fan of West—I’m a neutral, I have no personal dog in McLemee’s fight with West’s accounting of himself. But, I find the practice of thinking about public intellectuals—their place, role, and expectations of them—of interest. To recount the principles, the object of McLemee’s ire is West’s own autobiography, Brother West: Living and Loving Out Loud: A Memoir. McLemee never uses this phrase, but you get the feeling that he sees Brother West as a This Is Spinal Tap version of West’s autobiography. Let me tease you with two brief passages from McLemee’s piece:
There is seldom much detail and never any depth [to West’s reflections]. West makes a few references to academic mentors. He notes his intense interest in various philosophers or authors. Yet there is never a sustained effort to grapple with them as influences on his life and thinking. He mentions his own scholarly books on Marxism and pragmatism (for some odd reason forgetting that he also published one on African-American theology) but does not describe the process of thinking and writing that went into them.
…If sketchy in other regards, Brother West is never anything but expansive on how Cornel West feels about Cornel West. He is deeply committed to his committed-ness, and passionately passionate about being full of passion. Various works of art, literature, music, and philosophy remind West of himself. He finds Augustinian humility to be deeply meaningful. This is mentioned in one sentence. His taste for three-piece suits is full of subtle implications that require a couple of substantial paragraphs to elucidate.
To me, McLemee seems to be saying that once you have entered the public arena, you ~owe~ that same public—at some point—an authentic, sincere, applied remembrance of your life. I think I agree, but I’m not sure. And of course West still has some time to provide that narrative. But will he?
4. Political Correctness and Identity Politics in the Academy, Soberly Assessed: Stanley Fish considers political correctness as an object of study as presented in new books from both “liberal” and “conservative” angles. Fish finds the “conservative” study, which consists of a compilation of essays published by the American Enterprise Institute, to be intriguing—even convincing. He relays that the following from that study:
The call for intellectual diversity is, as the volume’s authors acknowledge, less philosophical than strategic; it is designed to embarrass liberal academics who are dedicated to what Peter Wood calls the “diversity regime” in academia. …The answer [to the problem] is that it would be better if all sides acknowledged that “diversity” is a word that has lost whatever usefulness it may have had and has become an umbrella rationale for importing political criteria into the process of academic decision-making. We should be done with it.
Fish concludes: No one…will agree with everything these two books say, but reading them together, and in counterpoint, is a genuinely educational experience. Rather than merely cheering for your side and booing at the other, you actually learn something.
5. A New Penn Press Series: The Arts and Intellectual Life in Modern America: This new series, edited by Casey Nelson Blake, consists thus far of the following hardbacks:
—Iain Anderson’s This Is Our Music: Free Jazz, the Sixties, and American Culture;
—Casey Nelson Blake’s The Arts of Democracy: Art, Public Culture, and the State;
—Cándida Smith’s The Modern Moves West: California Artists and Democratic Culture in the Twentieth Century;
—Steven Conn’s Do Museums Still Need Objects?;
—April F. Masten’s Art Work: Women Artists and Democracy in Mid-Nineteenth-Century New York; and
—A. Joan Saab’s For the Millions: American Art and Culture Between the Wars.
6. Teaching Early Modern Philosophy: Dana McCourt over at The Edge of the American West, claiming an unintended provocation by provoked by Crooked Timber’s John Holbo, discusses alternative teaching strategies for the Early Modern period of philosophy. I love Dana’s suggestion of using female philosophers, at the very least, as critics of the Big Guys who dominate this period: Descartes, Leibniz, Spinoza, Hume, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, and Kant. Here’s the book she recommends to that end. The issue of how to approach this period is no small consideration for someone attempting to teach a “History of Philosophy in America” course that honestly deals with the colonial period.
7. The Armageddon Imperative: This CFP will be of interest to those who work on the Cold War in the late twentieth century. I see a great many intellectual history intersections in the invited topics subsection.
8. We’ve Tried NeoLiberalism Before in the Modern West: Tony Judt explains here how it didn’t work. I wonder what future historian will write the book titled: “The Myth and Reality of Government Inefficiency: How The New Right Won the Late Twentieth-Century Culture Wars in America, 1980 – __2008? 2012?*__ – TL